Israel's Al Jazeera Ban Slams The Door On Freedom Of The Press

Journalist associations and press freedom organizations throughout the world condemned the Israeli government after the country’s parliament voted to shut down Al Jazeera.

Israel's Al Jazeera Ban Slams The Door On Freedom Of The Press
Screen shot of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Source: C-SPAN)

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Journalist associations and press freedom organizations throughout the world condemned the Israeli government after the country’s parliament voted to shut down Al Jazeera. Security forces raided the news network’s offices in East Jerusalem and seized equipment.

On April 1, the Knesset passed a law that gives Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the authority to ban any media organization that the government designates as a “national security threat.” The ban against Al Jazeera is for 45 days but may be extended. 

The raid occurred as the Israeli military prepares an invasion of Rafah, where at least 1.5 million Palestinians living in famine have sought refuge for months. A United Nations humanitarian aid agency has warned that an invasion would potentially result in hundreds of thousands of deaths. 

“Israel’s decision to shutter Al Jazeera should be a cause for concern for all supporters of a free press,” the board of the Foreign Press Association stated. “With this decision, Israel joins a dubious club of authoritarian governments to ban the station. And the government may not be done. The prime minister has the authority to target other foreign media that he deems to be ‘acting against the state.’” 

Committee to Protect Journalists program director Carlos Martinez de la Serna declared, “CPJ condemns the closure of Al Jazeera’s office in Israel and the blocking of the channel’s websites. This move sets an extremely alarming precedent for restricting international media outlets working in Israel.”

Along with footage of the raid against Al Jazeera circulated, Israeli Communication Minister Shlomo Karhi announced on May 5—two days after World Press Freedom Day—that the Israeli government had “unanimously ordered the closure of the incitement mouthpiece of Hamas in Israel, Al Jazeera.

“Anyone who incites against the state of Israel, anyone who harms the security of Israel and the soldiers fighting for the IDF (Israeli army) will no longer broadcast here from Israel and their equipment will be confiscated,” Karhi added.”

Israeli government officials have consistently referred to Al Jazeera as a “Hamas mouthpiece” and the media organization’s journalists as “terror operatives” without any evidence whatsoever.

Al Jazeera officially responded, “Israel's ongoing suppression of the free press, seen as an effort to conceal its actions in the Gaza Strip, stands in contravention of international and humanitarian law. Israel's direct targeting and killing of journalists, arrests, intimidation, and threats will not deter Al Jazeera from its commitment to cover whilst more than 140 Palestinian journalists have been killed since the beginning of the war on Gaza."

"The Network vehemently rejects the allegations presented by Israeli authorities suggesting professional media standards have been violated," the organization addeed. "Al Jazeera urges all media freedom, human rights, and other concerned organizations to condemn the repeated attacks on journalists and the press by Israel and to hold those responsible to account.”

“This is understood among Palestinians as an unprecedented escalation as it could be an introduction for further military acts that the Israeli military do not want Al Jazeera to cover on the ground, as it has been one of the sole media outlets that has been day and night reporting on all the latest regarding [Israel’s] ongoing offensive on the Gaza Strip,” said Tareq Abu Azzoum, a correspondent for Al Jazeera.

An unnamed diplomatic source told Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, that the move to shut down Al Jazeera was clearly intended to “put pressure on Qatar” during ceasefire negotiations. If the assault on Gaza ends, it may mean the end of Netanyahu’s rule over Israel. Netanyahu is doing all that he can to sabotage a deal.

Screen shot from footage shared by Israel's Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi of the raid against Al Jazeera

Although United States government officials have publicly opposed Israel’s move to ban Al Jazeera, there was no immediate response from any U.S. official to the raid. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller previously insisted that the Israeli military has not targeted Al Jazeera journalists during the war.  

Al Jazeera English recorded a segment in anticipation of the raid on their office. “If you’re watching this pre-recorded report, then Al Jazeera has been banned in the territory of Israel,” declared Al Jazeera English senior correspondent Imran Khan.  

“They’ve banned our website, including anything that has the option of entering or accessing the website, even passwords that are needed. Whether they’re paid or not and whether it’s stored on Israeli servers or outside of Israel, the website is now inaccessible. They’re also banning any device used for providing content.”

Khan continued, “That includes my mobile phone. If I use that to do any kind of newsgathering, then the Israelis can simply confiscate it. Our internet access provider, the guy that simply hosts, is also in danger of being fined if they host the website.”

The National Press Club in Washington, D.C., opposed the ban and indicated their support for Al Jazeera’s decision to “fight this in court.”

Tim Dawson, the deputy general secretary for the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said in an interview for Al Jazeera English, “Israel makes much of being a democracy, and I think the idea that it can simply close down an international broadcaster of considerable repute and history is atrocious. Sadly, it is part of a long set of actions that the Israeli government has taken to try and thwart free reporting of this conflict.”

As Reporters Without Borders recounted when Israel moved to ban Al Jazeera on April 1, “At least 103 journalists have been killed in Gaza by Israeli strikes, including at least 22 in the course of their work. Three of them worked for Al Jazeera. The journalist Hamza al-Dahdouh – the son of Wael al-Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza – and his colleague Moustafa Thuraya, were killed by an Israeli strike at the start of January.”

Dahdouh was injured in a strike that killed Al Jazeera cameraman Samer Abu Daqqa in February.

In May 2022, Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a correspondent for Al Jazeera, was effectively assassinated by Israeli military forces while she was reporting on a military raid in the Jenin refugee camp. 

Israeli military forces bombed the Al Jawhara Tower in Gaza City on May 12, 2021, which was a 10-story building that housed 14 media organizations including Al Jazeera. 

During an interview for Al Jazeera English, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, said,Israeli TV doesn’t show anything from Gaza, and Al Jazeera English was such a reliable and enriching source of information for me as a citizen, not as a writer. To close this down means to close down the option of free press in Israel.”

Paired with the censorship regime that the Israeli government has imposed on international correspondents, the ban on Al Jazeera increases the Israeli government’s ability to commit atrocities without the world seeing them in real time.